Lunch in Mexico: Waiter and Animal Guide
One of the things I love about travelling is that there is often a lot more to meals than just the food.
I visited a town near Oaxaca, Mexico with a small group of people from my Spanish School. The town has several interesting things to see, including a bustling market, Mayan ruins - unmolested by archeologists - and a priest with an axe buried in his head. Or at least there’s a statue of him in the local church.
The boy who sets the table and brings the food must be about ten or 11. Between restaurant chores, he likes to introduce the guests some of his favorite things.
Beyond the hustle and bustle of the weekly market, down the road, ’round a corner and through an arch in the aqueduct, the restaurant can easily be entirely missed by most tourist visitors.
About a dozen of us, occupy much of the seating at the one long table in the dining area. Don’t let the term dining area fool you. It is more the dining zone, covered by a set of cement arches and brick walls. They seem earthquake-proof enough, which is a bonus in this area. The kitchen, covered by a separate roof, is separated from us by the stove on which our lunch will be cooked.
The kitchen is interesting in itself - a mixture of ancient and prehistoric. The three-burner gas stove could be ten years old, or a hundred. The raised hearth looks relatively new, but the design has been around forever. It is that raised hearth that gives this place its timeless feeling. Transcending geography, it reminds me of a similar cooking arrangement I saw at a longhouse in Borneo. I love this quirky Mexican restaurant from the start.
When we arrive, the boy makes himself busy setting the table. That done, and our orders taken by the men in the kitchen, we have a wait ahead of us until the food will be ready.
In the mean time, the boy, like boys everywhere, wants to show us his favorite things.
First on his list is a collection of cadged parrots. He obviously thinks highly of them, and had a lot to say about them. I, for one, have so little Spanish that I really can’t understand a word, but he is happy to have an attentive audience of any linguistic ability. Some of the others with more Spanish converse with him to the best of their ability.
Further around the back, through a bit of a labyrinth, we come to some animal pens. The variety of animals is impressive for such a tiny parcel of land. The contents of an entire barn, it seems, have been condensed down to suit the available space.
There are some sheep, some chickens, some pigs … and quite possibly one or two other animal varieties which I missed, and of course the parrots.
Like boys everywhere, he thinks nothing of picking up his parrot, feeding the sheep, and then feeding us! My mother would not have stood for this, but I honestly don’t think anyone told him to wash his hands.
Is this the close proximity with animals I have heard so much about - what accounts for various types of mutating viruses and horrifying parasites evolving from animal hosts to human hosts?
Some members of our group are apprehensive about eating the food . They worry about becoming sick, and I can’t entirely blame them. I might prefer a little more hygiene myself. But it doesn’t stop me. I eat my fill, and after a couple of days, I must surely be in the clear.
You can do more than eat and be exposed to new cultural experiences when you travel, you can build up your immunity too.